U.S. to offer more support to Pakistan

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Obama administration has decided to offer Pakistan more military, intelligence and economic support, and to intensify U.S. efforts to forge a regional peace, despite ongoing frustration that Pakistani officials are not doing enough to combat terrorist groups in the country's tribal areas, officials said.

The decision to double down on Pakistan represents the administration's attempt to call the bluff of Pakistani officials who have long complained that the United States has failed to understand their security priorities or provide adequate support.

That message will be delivered by Vice President Biden, who plans to travel to Pakistan next week for meetings with its military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, and top government leaders. Biden will challenge the Pakistanis to articulate their long-term strategy for the region and indicate exactly what assistance is needed for them to move against Taliban sanctuaries in areas bordering Afghanistan.

The strategy, determined in last month's White House Afghanistan war review, amounts to an intensifying of existing efforts to overcome widespread suspicion and anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, and build trust and stability.

President Obama and his top national security aides rejected proposals, made by some military commanders and intelligence officials who have lost patience with Pakistan, to allow U.S. ground forces to conduct targeted raids against insurgent safe havens, officials said. They concluded that the United States can ill afford to threaten or further alienate a precarious, nuclear-armed country whose cooperation is essential to the administration on several fronts.

The conclusions were referred to in a publicly released, five-page summary of the review as unspecified policy "adjustments." Several administration officials said that the classified review identified areas where stronger effort was needed rather than specific new programs.

The review resolved to "look hard" at what more could be done to improve economic stability, particularly on tax policy and Pakistan's relations with international financial institutions. It directed administration and Pentagon officials to "make sure that our sizeable military assistance programs are properly tailored to what the Pakistanis need, and are targeted on units that will generate the most benefit" for U.S. objectives, said one senior administration official who participated in the review and was authorized to discuss it on the condition of anonymity.

Pakistan has complained in the past that promised U.S. aid, currently projected to total more than $3 billion in 2011, has been slow to arrive and that requests for helicopters and other military equipment have remained unfulfilled.

Beginning with Biden's visit, the time may be ripe for a frank exchange of views and priorities between the two sides, another administration official said. The Pakistanis "understand that Afghanistan-Pakistan has become the single most important foreign policy issue to the United States, and their cachet has gone up." But they also realize that they may have reached the point of maximum leverage, this official said, "and things about their region are going to change one way or the other" in the near future, as Congress and the American public grow increasingly disillusioned with the war and a timeline for military withdrawal is set.

"Something is going to give," he said. "There is going to be an end-game scenario and they're trying to guess where we're heading."

On intelligence, the administration plans to address Pakistan's complaints that the Americans have not established enough outposts on the Afghan side of the border to stop insurgent infiltration, while pressing the Pakistanis to allow U.S. and Afghan officials to staff border coordination centers inside Pakistan itself.

The intelligence coordination is part of an effort to build political, trade and security links between Pakistan and Afghanistan as a way of assuaging Pakistan's fears that India, its traditional adversary, is building its own influence in Afghanistan. "We think there's a lot of room for improvement on that front," the senior official said.

The administration also plans "redouble our efforts to look for political approaches" to ending the war, including a recognition that Pakistan "must play an important role," if not a dominant one, in reconciliation talks with the Taliban, he said.

An intelligence estimate prepared for the review concluded that the war in Afghanistan could not be won unless the insurgent sanctuaries were wiped out and that there was no real indication Pakistan planned to undertake the effort.

But the White House concluded that while Taliban safe havens were "a factor," they were "not the only thing that stands between us and success in Afghanistan," the senior official said.

"We understand the general view a lot of people espouse" in calling for direct U.S. ground attacks, he said of the intelligence estimate. But while the administration's goal is still a Pakistani offensive, the review questioned whether "classic clear, hold and build" operations were the only way to deny the insurgents free access to the borderlands, and asked whether "a range of political, military, counterterrorism and intelligence operations" could achieve the same result.

That view represents a significant shift in administration thinking, perhaps making a virtue of necessity given Pakistani refusal thus far to launch the kind of full-scale ground offensive the United States has sought in North Waziristan.

"The challenge is that when you talk about safe havens in Pakistan, you imagine some traditional military clearing operation that then settles the issue," the official said. While the Pakistani military has cleared insurgents from most of the tribal areas, it remains heavily deployed in those areas, where little building has taken place.

The operations, involving 140,000 Pakistani troops, have pushed the Taliban and al-Qaeda into concentrations in North Waziristan, where the United States has launched a withering barrage of missile attacks from remotely piloted drone aircraft, guided in large part by Pakistani intelligence.

Kayani, the Pakistani military chief, has said he will eventually launch an offensive in North Waziristan. But he has told the Americans that he cannot spare additional troops from Pakistan's half-million-man army, most of which is deployed along the Indian border, and that he lacks the proper equipment to conduct operations he fears will drive insurgents deeper inside Pakistan's populated areas.

U.S. military commanders have pushed numerous times over the past 18 months for more latitude to allow Special Operations troops to carry out missions across the Pakistan border, officials said. The CIA has similarly sought to expand the territory inside Pakistan it can patrol with armed drones, prodding Pakistan repeatedly for permission to fly drones over Quetta, a city in Baluchistan where the Taliban's political leaders are thought to be based.

The senior administration official, who called the proposals "ideas, not even operational concepts much less plans," said they were rejected by the White House in the most recent review, as they have been repeatedly in the past, as likely to cause more harm than good. "We've got to increasingly try to look at this through their lens," the official said of Pakistan, "not because we accept it wholesale, but because their actions are going to continue to be driven by their perspective."

"In the long run," he said, "our objectives have to do with the defeat of al-Qaeda and the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. If you're not careful here . . . you may do something in the short run that makes gains against the policy objective in North Waziristan but proves self-defeating in the long term."

© 2011 The Washington Post Company